How far have we come in forensic science?

There’s an old saying: “Things aren’t as bad as they used to be.” But is this true in forensic science?

Eric Lander is a Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a member of the Whitehead Institute, and director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. He currently is co-chair of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

In 1989, Lander wrote and article for Nature entitled “DNA Fingerprinting On Trial, 339 Nature 501, 505 (1989). he explained then that,

At present, forensic science is virtually unregulated — with the paradoxical result that clinical laboratories must meet higher standards to be allowed to diagnose strep throat than forensic labs must meet to put a defendant on death row.

That was some time ago. What has changed?

Maybe not much. In fact, nothing at all. Our forensic science laboratories remain totally unregulated. There is infrequent if any oversight. If errors are made, they are not caught. If they are caught, they seldom are corrected. If they are discovered and disclosed, then no one is ever truly held accountable. The operational paradigm is that a single analyst is usually isolated and made a scapegoat instead of the entire institution being put to shame.

What on earth are we doing?

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